At the University of Minnesota a team of researchers has developed a 3D printed light sensing wearable that can help people with light-sensitive diseases, such as lupus, to understand more about the types of light that can exacerbate their symptoms. Many people with lupus are sensitive to light, such as sunlight or even regular indoor light, but they may not know what specific light conditions are likely to cause flare-ups. This new device aims to provide such people with more information, so that they can learn more about their flare-ups and take steps to avoid or reduce them. The technology could lead to more personalized medicine and a greater understanding of light-sensitive disease.
Approximately five million people worldwide live with lupus and between 40-70% of those experience some form of light sensitivity. These can include rashes, fatigue, and joint pain. This light sensitivity seems to vary from patient to patient, making it difficult to provide advice on which situations to avoid and how to reduce the likelihood of light-mediated flare-ups.
“I treat a lot of patients with lupus or related diseases, and clinically, it is challenging to predict when patients’ symptoms are going to flare,” said David Pearson, one of the creators of the new device. “We know that ultraviolet light and, in some cases visible light, can cause flares of symptoms — both on their skin, as well as internally — but we don’t always know what combinations of light wavelengths are contributing to the symptoms.”
In an effort to, ahem, shed more light on this situation, these researchers have developed a wearable light sensor that can help patients and their caregivers better correlate light conditions with flare-ups. The fully 3D printed device contains zinc oxide, which can convert a UV light stimulus to an electrical signal. The device is built on a silicone base, and contains optical filters that can be swapped out depending on the type of light that is intended to be measured.
“There is no other device like this right now with this potential for personalization and such easy fabrication,” said Pearson. “The dream would be to have one of these 3D printers right in my office. I could see a patient and assess what light wavelengths we want to evaluate. Then I could just print it off for the patient and give it to them. It could be 100 percent personalized to their needs. That’s where the future of medicine is going.”
See a video about the technology below.
Study in Advanced Science: 3D Printed Skin‐Interfaced UV‐Visible Hybrid Photodetectors